Peter Steward's Web Site
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - 20
I ended up with mixed feelings on this one, despite enjoying it immensely at times. Firstly let me say it is very easy to read. The pace is good and the idea excellent. The problem is that as you approach the end of the book you sense a disappointment is coming - almost as if the author has run out of ideas and the whole thing just fizzles out.
The result is you feel let down and much of what has gone before suddenly seems irrelevant.
The book tells the story of an Octogenerian Ukrainian refugee living in Peterborough. He has two very different daughters and suddenly a voluptuous Ukrainian wife who is obviously out to bleed him dry. His daughters soon cotton on to this as "pappa" suffers abuse at the hands of Miss Voluptuous and her "genius" son who turns out to be a little short in the genius stakes.
There is plenty of pathos in the book and some deliciously funny sections which is quite a triumph from a plot that could have been very dark indeed. Some of the observations are very sharp and within the framework of the family relationships is exposed a wartime story of the correction camps and the family's otherwise hidden background.
Sadly there are no surprises and the ending is hugely disappointing. Problem is as the book unfolds you begin to feel that this will be the case and when it did all tail off I wasn't that surprised. Worth a read though.
Two Caravans - 17
I couldn't wait to finish this book, but sadly not because I was enjoying it but because, whilst wanting to know what happened, I really wanted to move onto something more entertaining.
Having found her previous book A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian interesting if slightly unedifying, I had at least some hopes of this follow up.
Lewycka certainly hit upon a good idea - the plight of immigrant workers in the United Kingdom. But she can't quite make up her mind whether she wants to produce biting satire, a serious study or a comedy and it falls horribly somewhere in the vague region of all three and that makes for a very disappointing read.
The book ambles and rambles - suddenly moving off at a tangent where characters are dropped or just seem to go missing. In the end it develops into a kind of Ukrainian love story that becomes more and more implausible as it continues. It could have been a novel about the plight of immigrant workers - it isn't. It could have been a novel about the gang masters - it isn't. It could have been a study about the triumph of good over evil - it isn't.
Lewycka seems to insist on making her characters zany - we even have one of the main characters from her previous novel turn up in a Peterborough nursing home. When at the end some of the central characters come together in Sheffield I was left with the feeling of 1/ just how did they get there and 2/ so what.
Earlier parts of the book are sharp and at times well penned but by the end the whole thing has degenerated into a kind of pastiche. There's even a dog that has thoughts and these appear in the novel in capitals - and that's just plain silly.